Seven Questions: Owner Operator


There’s no denying that the technical properties of modern outerwear is leaps and bounds above what was available decades ago. However, while functionality has increased, aesthetics, unfortunately, seem to have decreased. To put it plainly: the majority of contemporary performance gear just looks bad. For all their breathable / waterproof / moisture-wicking qualities, many of today’s garments still leave much to be desired in their appearance. Brooklyn’s Owner Operator is trying to change that.

Combining retro styling with cutting-edge performance technology, OO’s high-tech apparel offers the best of both worlds: advanced materials and classic looks. Even better, the brand’s entire collection is made in the USA, so not only do the pieces emulate their forebears design-wise, they do so quality-wise as well. Owner Operator co-founder Steven Kimura recently took some time out to discuss local manufacturing, product testing, and paying models with beer. Here’s what he had to say.

Well Spent: Give us the Owner Operator origin story.
Steven Kimura: Pete and I grew up snowboarding and skateboarding together in upstate New York. It was a great scene, with cool gear made by brands you could really relate to. As we got older, we were still as excited as ever about riding, but we felt like the vibe of the industry was starting to have more flash than fidelity. We wanted to go back to that idealism and excitement we felt as kids, create a company built on that enthusiasm and transparency. We own the company, we design the gear, and we test and build it to fit our own experiences on the mountain.

Tell us about the products.
Owner Operator manufactures modern technical gear with classic style. More specifically, we make parkas, snow pants, mittens, knit hats, and tees. Every piece of gear we create has to function in the real environment. We’ve tested our parkas in whiteout conditions, in hail storms on the mountain, in days that suddenly turn into steamy sunlight. Outerwear has to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. But, we also think it should look good too, so we’ve put a lot of thought into the fit and appearance as well.


Tell us about the design process.
The best way to refine your products is to be out there in the snow seeing what works and what doesn’t. We’ve probably sewn a dozen versions of the 111 Parka to get it where it is today. We paid our friend and fit model Aaron at least a dozen six packs to wave his arms around, pretend to adjust his bindings, or just stand there patiently while we adjust the fit. Ultimately, we design for our own needs. Which means that a real person, not a sales analyst, has considered where and how to vent your jacket, or whether the fleece in your mittens should be smooth or have texture.

Tell us about the production / manufacturing.
We sew all of our outerwear in NYC’s Garment District. Keeping our production in the USA is the right thing to do for so many reasons. The farther you get from your own backyard, the less you know about what’s going on. We can actually ride our bikes from the office, right to the factory any time we want to check in on how things are going. All our accessories are made in the USA too. Why go halfway around the world when the best wool hats are made in Vermont?

When we started out, we would show people our sample parkas that we made, and they would tell us that no factory in the USA could make a garment that complicated. We’d tell them that we made it ourselves, at home, but they’d just shake their heads. Tough Traveler, from our hometown of Schenectady, NY, was a real inspiration to us as we sought out domestic suppliers and manufacturers. They’re still making all of their gear two miles from the house I grew up in.

Clearly the jackets are great for snowboarding, but what about us non-riders? What’s in it for us?
Our parkas work great everywhere. Waiting for the bus or walking around the city in winter conditions is actually a pretty similar experience to being in the mountains. Having a hood that wraps around your head and face in snow and rain is an amazing urban feature. That, plus having breathable fabric that won’t overheat as you are moving, or leave you steamed when you stop, makes the 111 a key city jacket. Our styling is deliberately conservative, and works everywhere. We’ve also designed our jackets to last. Whether we’re in the mountains, or in the city (where we live and work), we want our jackets to be an essential wardrobe piece that we’re always reaching for.

Are there any future projects / products you can tell us about?
We’re just finishing up our Winter 2012-13 line now, then we’ll travel back in time to design our Spring/Summer 2012 line. We’re particularly excited about our concept for board shorts, but that might just be because winter is finally arriving here in the Northeast. We’re also working on some bags and luggage for Spring and Summer travels.


What would you say to someone who’s still on the fence about buying from Owner Operator?
Owner Operator is a company that cares about the form and function of its garments, and makes pieces that fit a modern lifestyle in all its considerations: conscience, attitude, appearance. We definitely design with the mountains in mind, but that’s because it’s an ideal environment to stress-test our designs. Ultimately, Owner Operator is a company that makes decisions based on our dearest values. Freedom, transparency, and following in the traditions of great brands of the past. We’re not a heritage brand today, but in thirty years we hope to be.

For price and purchase info, visit Owner Operator.

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  • Jason

    Howdy,

    Fun article. And though I enjoy the enthusiasm and idealism of the brand, I have to take particular exception with the editorial tone of the interview; it is glib, oversimplified, and uninformed. As someone who makes his living selling (what I feel is) aesthetically forward, technical outerwear brands, I think you’ve really missed the mark on this one. When I first saw OO, I admit, my interest was piqued. But upon closer inspection, I began to wonder if I was the only one who noticed the brand’s obvious shortcomings, given their luxury price point. They do not seam seal any garments, requisite of even calling it “technical apparel.” Their waterproof rating (15,000mm at best) is at the lowest end of the industry threshold of what counts as “waterproof,” especially if the wearer sits in the garment (something all snowboarders do). Furthermore, from a design aspect, the entire collection is essentially a reincarnation of Forum, Special Blend, Volcom, etc from the mid 90′s, however, key features of those brands are conspicuously missing from this line up.

    Now for the most glaring oversight: “the majority of contemporary performance gear just looks bad.” REALLY?! did you happen to notice the latest issue of Inventory, featuring an in-depth article on Stone Island? Or maybe we can look at Veilance, Isa Ora, White Mountaineering, Wild Things, Nanamica, Visvim, Duvetica, Acronym, Canada Goose, Aether, Outlier, Otte, and a countless slew of other brands who are making cutting edge, technical outerwear in North America and Japan? And these brands aren’t even that much more expensive than OO. They are just light years ahead- design-wise, technically, and aesthetically (IMO).

    I really wouldn’t have minded if it weren’t for two things: the complete oversight of what more advanced operations have already been perusing for the last few decades; and the luxury, Nepenthes required, (why not disclose that this is a Nepenthes brand?) price point of goods that are at best, an aesthetic approximation of a time period (90′s), when those originals were already trying to evolve past the technical restrictions of that era?

    Food for thought. Not trying to hate. I like the look, but this is bordering on a novelty- in much the way that historical recreations of workwear would never actually be worn by manual laborers, I don’t see this brand having much appeal to most true blue snowboarders who tend to save their money for lift tickets, gas and beer money.

    JM

    • http://well-spent.com Brad

      Jason,

      In my intro, I’m referring to mall brands. North Face, Marmot, Patagonia, etc. The kind of stuff that the average shopper has easy access to.

      You’re talking about cult brands. Many of which, I agree, are doing very cool things. But, they’re also very (very) expensive, and just not that widely available (or known).

      As for the tech stuff, I’ll leave that up to someone more knowledgeable than I to address. That said, I am confident that OO is not attempting to misrepresent itself or its products with fallacious claims.

      Always a pleasure,

      bb

  • Jason

    I think it goes without saying that OO is, by definition, a niche brand, and as such, this discussion is relevant, pertinent, and straight up its alley. And when I asked the folks (who are charismatic and charming, by the way) at OO about the technical properties of their clothing, I was told, verbatim, “it’s hella waterproof!” I’m sorry, but no, it’s not. And though I’m not all about calling anyone out on false claims, it does seem a bit disingenuous to market it as a technical brand without meeting any of the requirements that would actually warrant it to be so. Also, let’s be honest: if it’s distributed by Nepenthes, Angelo and crew are going to make a tidy profit, and the msrp will not be commensurate with the value of the garments themselves.

    True technical innovation usually comes from a brand that owns its manufacturing facilities. That way, it can experiment, and push the envelope of what’s possible. Contracted cut and sew operations are not interested in making a product better; they knock it out at the cheapest possible price, and call it a day. It doesn’t matter if they’re in Manhattan’s Garment District or the bowels of a Southeast Asian sweatshop: it’s just the way it works.

    There’s a huge misconception being perpetrated by blogs that there are all these new “brands” out there, when, in actuality, there are just many new attempts to market contracted patterns made by the same old factories. There is a tremendous difference, and it is magnified (exacerbated) when the scenario is applied to technical apparel.

    But all bs aside, I applaud the effort, and I wish them well. I like the idea, but I still think a restructuring is needed to achieve commercial success (in case they ever have hopes of growing beyond their “niche”). But hey, what do I know?

    Keep up the Great Work,
    JM

  • http://twitter.com/ckerst Cam

    Whoa what a hater. Funny thing is that this stuff is probably awesome for an adult snowboarder. Adults buy ENTIRELY different stuff from 16 year old shred kids, and unlike all those Japanese holy grail brands you only see on instagram, this stuff is made for snowboarding!

    I have been really excited by seeing this stuff as someone in the shred retail industry, and if I wasn’t making peanuts (part of why I visit this site in the first place) I would be all over those mittens. Yes, it’s expensive, you make a good point, but you kind of run into that problem when you nerd out on the internet.

    These are cool pieces with a story that are age-appropriate for me, and that’s why I hope to be a customer some time soon. I don’t sit on my ass for more than a minute or two a few times a day, I don’t ride in the rain, and I think taped seams would work for me.

    Anyway, they don’t need my excuses, they’re living the dream making shred clothes (I hope), and I’m going to try to track down a sticker this week.

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  • http://www.OperatorUSA.com sk

    Hi Jason,

    I appreciate your detailed reading. There’s room for everybody out there. We love look of old Foursquare stuff, for sure!

    Peter Line 1996 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7ii_QX64zY

    Owner Operator is not a Nepenthes brand. A selection of our products are available in their NYC store, and they are handling our distribution in Japan next year. We are a two-man operation, owner-operated.

    thanks,

    Steven

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  • http://operatorusa.com peter sieper

    jason,

    you couldnt be more wrong, call me, we need to talk

    646 669 4291

    peter

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